Building Soft Skills, Tips for Improving (Part 3)

Hopefully, you were able to read the last 2 practice tips  – Tips for Improving (Part 1 and 2).

In those practice tips we discussed how we work with our students to create new habits rather than breaking old habits. It is essentially impossible to break bad habits (our mind/body is not set up that way) … but we are set up to be able to create new habits and ultimately make changes/create new movements, etc.  we want.

We talked about a book we strongly recommend – The Little Book of Talent/52 Tips for Improving Your Skills by Daniel Coyle

It is described as a manual for building a faster brain and a better you. It is an easy-to-use hand book of scientifically proven, field tested methods to improve your skills – your skills, your kids’ skills, your organization’s skills – in sports, music, art, math and business. The product of five years of reporting from the world’s greatest talent hotbeds and interviews with successful master coaches, it distills the daunting complexity of skill development into 52 clear, concise directives. Whether you are 10 or 100, this is an essential guide for anyone who ever asked, “How do I get better?”



Tips for Improvement Part 1 & 2  we talked about the following tips:

1.  Staring at who you want to become.

2.  Spending 15 minutes a day engraving the skills on your brain.

3.  Stealing without apology.

4.   Buying (and keeping) a notebook.

5.  Be willing to be stupid

6.  Choose spartan over luxurious

7.  Before you start, figure out if it’s a hard skill or a soft skill

8.  To build hard skills, work like a careful carpenter

This instructional (Part 3) we cover the next 3 tips for improving your skills and relate them to you learning/working on your single plane swing and golf game.

9. To Build Soft Skills, Play Like a Skateboarder

While hard skills are put together with measured precision (Tip # 8), soft skills are built by playing and exploring inside the challenging, ever-changing environments. These are places where you encounter different obstacles and respond to them over and over, building the network of sensitive wiring you need to read, recognize and react. In other words, to build soft skills you should behave less like a careful carpenter and more like a skateboarder in a skateboard park: aggressive, curious and experimental, always seeking new ways to challenge yourself.

It may seem a far distance between a skateboarder and golfer, but it really isn’t. A soft skill in golf is primarily built on the course or practicing for “on course” situations. It is much more about feel than technique.

Some examples: Hitting shots into different winds (down wind, cross wind, etc..), hitting different trajectories (high, low, etc..), working on different shots into the green, ones that roll (like a long chip), ones that stop fast (like a pitch or lob shot), hitting off of side hill lies (up hill, down hill, etc..), and obviously many more.

Suggestions to help you practice/work on these soft skills:

– Try to get on the golf course early or late… at a time when you are alone or with someone who doesn’t care if you hit more than one shot. And at a time when you aren’t holding anyone up behind you. My favorite times are to start on back nine early in morning (not getting in way of grounds crew) or teeing off early evening when the front nine is open.

– Hit more than one shot (hit many if possible) in the situation you are working on.  Especially if the first was not performed correctly. (I like to hit 6 to 10 balls from the “situation”)

– Hit YOUR golf balls – the one’s you typically play with. NOT range balls…. You are learning feel, etc.. You need to learn feel with YOUR golf balls. They react different than range balls.

– Doesn’t hurt to make a plan before you start on what you want to work on. For example, let’s say you want to work on side hill lies and some flop shots around the greens.  You play the first hole and hit the ball down the middle… on a flat lie. Pick up the ball and find the nearest side hill lie.  Drop the ball on the lie and hit it. Hit a few more. work on that shot.  Let’s say you hit the shots on the green. Pick them up and throw them into a position that you will have to hit a flop/lob shot from… hit a few from there……  Have a plan before you start on shots you want to work on.

– Remember – learning/working on feel is just as important, even more important, than technique in building soft skills. Think about the feel….  take your time to learn the feel, even take notes on what you feel… it will help you a lot in recall when you have the same shot during a round of golf.

When you practice a soft skill, focus on making a high number of varied reps, and on getting clear feedback. Don’t worry too much about making errors – the important thing is to explore. After each session, ask yourself, what worked? What didn’t? And why?

10.Honor The Hard Skills

As you probably recognize, most talents are not exclusively hard skills or soft skills, but rather a combination of the two. Prioritize the hard skills because in the long run they’re more important to your talent. Most top performers (top athletes) place great importance on practicing the same skills they practice as beginners.

As we always say, over and over and over (I am sure many of our students get tired of us telling them this) – you must first build/work on your grip, then set up, then take away, then down swing, impact and release… in that order. And you will NEVER stop working on these fundamentals.

In fact, even myself (Tim) and my brother (Todd) continually work/tweak, check, etc.. these fundamentals. I ALWAYS use an alignment trainer when I practice, I quite often use a grip training club when I practice, Todd videos his swing almost every session he hits balls (to check) … You will and should NEVER stop working on your fundamentals.

One way to keep this idea in mind is to picture your talent as a big oak tree – a massive, thick trunk of hard skills (fundamentals) with the towering canopy of flexible soft skills up above.  First build the trunk.  Then work on the branches.

11. Don’t Fall For The Prodigy Myth

Most of us grow up being taught that talent is an inheritance, like brown hair or blue eyes. Therefore, we presume that the surest sign of talent is early, instant, effortless success, i.e. being a prodigy. In fact, a well-established body of research shows that that assumption is false.  Early success turns out to be a weak predictor of long-term success.

We believe and prove it every day, regardless of athleticism, age, “current talent”, etc.. you can, should and will improve if you practice correctly. In other words, as we always say, if you practice with a purpose and focus on getting a little better every time you practice, you will improve. The rate of improvement is up to you. How much you practice, your focus during practice, your focus on fundamentals, your “patience” to allow time for changes to occur and become a new habit, and in general your belief in the methodology are all factors to your improvement. We see too many fall into “the trap” that they can’t learn new habits because they are “too old” or aren’t “athletic” enough..  Both have very little to do with learning new habits… the issues typically come down to forgetting how to learn something new and flexibility issues. Both areas that can be worked on.

Talent Code comment: If you don’t have early success, don’t quit. Instead, treat your early efforts as experiments, not as verdicts. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Watch our next Practice Tip(s) for continuation of this topic – Tips for Improving including picking a coach, finding the sweet spot, breaking down moves into chunks, and many others.

One thought to “Building Soft Skills, Tips for Improving (Part 3)”

  1. Talent is born, nurtured,honed,and maintained “in the dirt!” I recall a quote from Ben Hogan, “The wiser I practice, the luckier I get!

    Tim and Todd, thank you and God bless you both. This offering, like the rest of your coaching system is exceptional.

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